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~ This Was a Good Day ~

A couple of days before last News Years day we got a phone call from a dear friend informing us her 84-year old mother died. The funeral was scheduled for New Years day.

Our friend described how the family and friends were drawn to gather around Mary, the mother, earlier that day. Mary was oblivious to earthly reality. She held her hands up as she lay on her death bed, uttering comments such as “It is so beautiful…Let me hug you.” Mary was blessed with what is called the beatific vision of Christ. Such vision is given only to those with a pure heart. Christ, in His “sermon on the mount,” declared, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.” Mary continued to endure the pangs of pain in her afflicted body. She announced, “This was a good day” and left her body that evening.

I was struck with the parallel of the experience of St. Therese of Lisieux. “Therese entered into the dark night of faith in April of 1896…’The Canticle of Sister Marie of the Trinity’ shows how much her trial had begun to work on her…With ‘My Joy’ [poem] Therese crosses a last threshold and at the same time begins the last year of her life. She settles into an unshakable faith, devoid of all sensible consolation. This faith is fortified by her will as she surrenders little by little to total abandonment and outwardly shows a serene face.’” [The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1996.]

Therese suffered and felt a disconnection from God until just before the end of her life on earth. Similar cries are uttered throughout the psalms, the most notable is that of Jesus Himself, suffering on the cross and quoting Psalm 22. Therese was in continual pain until she experienced the beatific vision on the day of her death, as Mary did.

On June 12, 1896, Therese wrote: “I am still on the other shore, but sensing eternal happiness. Oh! I would already like to leave this earth and gaze on the wonders of Heaven… When I dream of the joys of the other life, I no longer feel the weight of my exile. Since soon toward my only Homeland I’ll fly for the first time!…You know well, Sacred Heart of Jesus, my only martyrdom is your love. If my soul sighs for your beautiful Heaven, it’s to love you, to love you more and more!…In Heaven, always intoxicated with tenderness, I’ll love you without limit and without law, and my happiness will unceasingly seem as new as the first time!” [Id., p. 156-157]

Tears over Mary’s absence in the physical realm were no doubt shed. Until we join her in the heavens she will be missed, and so we cry in mourning. However, there were no tears during the celebration of her life in the church, nor were there any at the grave site. Strange to others outside the Christian tradition, this funeral was a celebration of joy. In only a few years, we will join Mary, a woman, like Therese, who did not complain about or question her painful afflictions. Mary was a child of God who never gossiped about others and who always sought to see the presence of Christ in the least of His brethren.

After the funeral my parents and I walked the beach nearby her grave site. I took off my shoes and socks and walked in the wintry cold ocean, delightfully. The daughter of Mary remarked to our pastor how wonderful that God provided a warm (60 degree F.) day for her funeral and burial. The beach was crowded with many people also enjoying a wonderful warm day on January 1. Most of the children also were in bare feet, playing in creation. Some adults also took off their shoes and socks! Do not most of us feel a calling to emerge ourselves in God’s creation, no matter the weather?

On the way home, my parents and I enjoyed a meal in celebration of my mother’s birthday and her life, the same day of Mary’s funeral and the celebration of her life.

As Mary said, this was a good day.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.

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